Talk of the Town

January 16, 1994

Let's see if we have this straight. First WBAL-AM radio steals Rush Limbaugh, America's favorite talk-show host, from WCBM-AM. Not to be outdone, WCBM hires Alan Keyes, the black conservative Republican who self-immolated in attempting to unseat Sen. Barbara Mikulski in 1992. CBM puts the glib Mr. Keyes on in the morning; BAL puts the blowhard (but wildly popular) Mr. Limbaugh on in the afternoon but on a delayed basis, so no Baltimorean can hope to get a call through to his program, heard on more than 600 stations.

Arrival of the two new "hosts" necessitates schedule rejiggering at the competing talk stations. Ron Smith, the thoughtful conservative who nevertheless had to compete with Mr. Limbaugh while the latter was on WCBM, moves to the night hours at BAL, where he'll be on when the Orioles and Terps aren't. CBM's Lester Kinsolving moves his "uninhibited radio" show to the early afternoon. Thus, WCBM's aviary will resound with fluttering right wings from morning 'til night.

Many of the callers to WBAL during Mr. Limbaugh's first week complained that the station had sold out in the interest of ratings. Indeed, Mr. Smith, in his first five minutes as a night host, declared, "Who am I to argue with commercial success?"

There is an element of opportunism in WBAL's move, but more than that, the presence of both Mr. Keyes and Mr. Limbaugh on daytime radio removes local flavor from both stations. If Mr. Keyes knows little about Baltimore, Mr. Limbaugh knows nothing. No Susans from West Baltimore complaining about poorly placed stop signs while these two are broadcasting.

In Mr. Limbaugh's case, though, Baltimoreans needn't feel frustrated that they can't get through. Neither can anyone else. "The Rush Limbaugh Show" is essentially a monologue designed more to entertain and promote its host and his books than to engage callers in dialogue. Mr. Limbaugh is the first to concede that.

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